Resistance: Masha, Sophie, Mala

Masha

Masha Bruskina was hanged in German-occupied Minsk on October 26, 1941 at age 17, after being paraded through the streets carrying a sign saying, “We are partisans and have shot at German troops”. She wasn’t a partisan and had not shot at German troops. Her crime was that she helped captured Russian soldiers escape from an infirmary where she had volunteered as a nurse by bringing them civilian clothes.

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She was executed along with 16-year-old Volodia Shcherbatsevich and World War I veteran Kiril Trus, both members of the resistance. She liked to read, and had graduated from high school a couple of months earlier with good grades. When she was arrested, she wrote her mother, who she lived with, saying,

“I am tormented by the thought that I have caused you great worry. Don’t worry. Nothing bad has happened to me. I swear to you that you will have no further unpleasantness because of me. If you can, please send me my dress, my green blouse, and white socks. I want to be dressed decently when I leave here.”

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Her body was left hanging for three days before being taken down and buried. All of her family was killed in the Minsk ghetto, and it is unlikely that Masha would have survived the war either.

A plaque at the site of the execution identified her only as “unknown girl” because Soviet authorities did not want to acknowledge her Jewish background. In 2009, her name was added to the monument, which now reads, in Russian, “Here on October 26, 1941 the Fascists executed the Soviet patriots K. I. Truss, V. I. Sherbateyvich and M.B. Bruskina”. There is also a street named for her in Jerusalem.

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Sophie

After a “trial” lasting a few minutes, Sophie Scholl was sent to the guillotine and beheaded at age 22 on February 22, 1943 in Munich for the crime of treason, along with her brother, Hans. She had been a member of The White Rose, a handful of university students who had distributed some anti-Nazi leaflets. There were six leaflets in all and you can read them here.

The White Rose urged resistance to the Nazis, acknowledged their crimes and the complicity of all Germans, and saw that the war was lost, even in early 1943, after the defeat at Stalingrad.

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Sophie had five siblings. She liked to draw, and, like Masha, she liked to read. Her group of friends liked hiking, swimming, skiing, concerts, art , music, and so on. Her father was sent to prison in 1942 for making a remark critical of Hitler. Sophie almost certainly would have survived the war had she not acted as her conscience demanded.

A movie called “Sophie Scholl – the Final Days” was released in 2005, and got an Oscar nomination for the Best Foreign Film.

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Malka

Malka (sometimes “Mala”) Zimetbaum was ordered to be burned alive in the crematorium at Auschwitz at age 26, on September 15, 1944. She may not have been alive when they threw her in, though, as she may have bled to death on the wheel-barrow that carried her there.

These pictures show Mala in 1941 in Antwerp, a sketch of her made in Auschwitz in 1944, and a couple of portrait photos.

She was born in Poland, the youngest of five children in a Jewish family, and had been raised in Belgium. In school, she excelled in math and languages.  She was sent to Auschwitz in September of 1942. She survived for two years in the camp, mainly because of her proficiency in Polish, Dutch, French, German, and Italian. She worked as a translator and courier. She was very well liked and respected by both guards and prisoners, and performed hundreds of kind acts and tried to save as many lives as she could.

Her crime was that she managed to escape Auschwitz with another prisoner, Edward “Edek” Galiński, a Pole who was in love with her.  On June 24th, 1944, Edek dressed as an SS guard using a uniform he had stolen, and escorted Mala through the camp gate under the pretense that she would be installing a sink which she was carrying. Their plan was to alert the outside world about what was going on in Auschwitz. They were free for 12 days and got about 50 miles away, where she was arrested trying to buy bread with gold they had taken from the camp.  Edek was watching nearby and gave himself up as he promised he had wouldn’t leave her.

They were taken to the infamous Block 11 in the main camp at Auschwitz. They tried to pass notes to each other, and Edek tried to sing opera arias near a window where he thought Mala was. They stayed in Block 11 until September 15, when they were taken to Birkenau to be executed on the same day. Galiński was hanged, shouting “Long live Poland!” as he died.

Mala took a razor out of her hair and slashed the veins at her elbows. There are various accounts of the next moments, some saying she slapped a guard’s face with her bloody hand and he grabbed her arm and broke it, then taped her mouth shut. Some said she had shouted at the guard that she would die with dignity while he would die in disgrace.

The people who bandaged her arms tried to do it slowly, hoping she could die on the wheelbarrow taking her to the crematorium, before being thrown into the flames.

Mala had been convinced she would have survived Auschwitz, given her privileged position in the camp and many allies, but she risked everything for a cause greater than herself. The camp was finally liberated four months after her death.  Information about these events came to light during the 1961 trial of Adolph Eichmann. You can read a little more about Mala here.

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2 thoughts on “Resistance: Masha, Sophie, Mala”

  1. I’ve been reading about the Holocaust since I was 11. In my view the only institution of modern (vs ancient) times comparable is American slavery. We are so connected to horror, and yet so unbelievably blind to it. Greed, racism, hatred. What a piece of work is us?

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  2. I feel ill after reading these atrociously sad stories of such stalwart girls and women. I am aghast to read the methods of the killings, so barbaric and medieval. However horrible, though, am grateful to know so I can adjust my world view, so thank you. I think.

    Like

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